Justice for Litvinenko

LONDON – In 2006, Alexander Litvinenko, a former officer of Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB), the KGB’s successor, was poisoned in London with radioactive polonium-210. For the last decade, his widow, Marina Litvinenko, has waged an uphill battle to get a measure of justice for her husband. Now, finally, she has prevailed.

Litvinenko had to stand up not only to the Kremlin, which was accused of sending two agents to London to carry out the assassination, but also to the United Kingdom’s government, which was wary of spoiling its relationship with Russia. At one point three years ago, she stood in tears on the steps of the Royal Courts of Justice, where judges had refused to protect her from the potentially high legal costs if she failed to compel the government to hold an inquiry.

But in the end, Litvinenko got her day – actually, 34 days – in court. And on January 21, Sir Robert Owen, chairman of the public inquiry, announced his verdict: It is “beyond doubt” that the FSB agents Andrei Lugovoi and Dmitry Kovtun carried out the assassination, which was “probably approved” by Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The evidence against Lugovoi and Kovtun came mostly from the police file, which established a “polonium trail” left by the pair around London. Very high levels of contamination were noted, particularly in the lavatory next to the bar where Litvinenko drank the poisoned tea and in the two bathrooms in the hotel rooms where the assassins stayed. Litvinenko never visited any of these three places, where the assassins apparently disposed of the unused toxin. A witness testified that Kovtun had declared, before the hit, that he was on a mission to “kill a traitor” with “a very expensive poison.”